HC Deb 20 November 1950 vol 481 cc35-9
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, which was ratified by the Parliaments of both countries, contains no provisions for modification or revision except by mutual consent. His Majesty's Government have, nevertheless, been willing to discuss the possibility of revision with the Egyptian Government and there have been discussions this summer between His Majesty's Ambassador and the Egyptian Government.

It has always been the desire of His Majesty's Government to settle outstanding differences with Egypt in the spirit of the long tradition of friendship between the two countries, on a basis of equality, and with full respect for the independence and sovereignty of Egypt.

The two Governments have in fact been in contact for many months on defence matters, with the object of removing misunderstandings and difficulties in the spirit I have stated. In these discussions no difference in principle has arisen over the defence of the Middle East in time of war. Both for this reason and in view of our obligations under the Treaty, His Majesty's Government has accordingly continued to give assistance to the Egyptian Government in the training and equipment of their forces.

The needs, however, of our own forces, those of other Commonwealth countries and of other North Atlantic Treaty Powers with whom we have working defence agreements, must and will come first, but for His Majesty's Government to deny such assistance to Egypt and to certain other countries altogether would be contrary to our Treaty obligations.

The difficulties which have not yet been resolved do not, as I have said, concern action in the event of war, but the question of defence measures in time of peace. The Egpytian Government have stated that they wish all British forces to be withdrawn from the Canal Zone in time of peace.

The principle of common defence measures in time of peace has been accepted by all the Western Powers and is fully compatible with national independence and sovereignty. Other countries in the Middle East are co-operating in this way.

This is not a matter which merely concerns the United Kingdom and Egypt. What is at stake is the safety and independence of other countries also. I can assure them, as I assure the House, that His Majesty's Government have no intention of taking any steps or agreeing to any measures which would leave the Middle East defenceless, or would needlessly prejudice the safety of free and friendly countries in that area and elsewhere.

As regards the Sudan, that country has been the scene of great progress in the political, social and economic field during recent years. It would be tragic if anything were to disturb this. His Majesty's Government's attitude remains the same. It is briefly that the Sudanese should in due course freely decide their own future.

In spite of the difficulties, I do not despair of being able to reconcile differences with Egypt on a friendly and just basis which will take account of the factors I have outlined. The Egyptian Foreign Minister will be visiting London next week, and this I understand will give us an opportunity to talk the matter over further.

Mr. Eden

The 1936 Treaty allows for a revision by mutual consent. As I understand the matter, the Foreign Secretary has been engaged in trying to reach an agreement on such revision. Now that he has not succeeded, I take it that the position of His Majesty's Government is that they rest upon the Treaty of 1936?

Mr. Bevin

We shall not move except by mutual action between the Governments concerned in accordance with the Treaty. We rest on the Treaty until changed by mutual consent.

Mr. Eden

I am much obliged, and I should like to ask one further question. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that in Article 16 not only is provision made for modification of the Treaty, but it is specifically laid down that the new Treaty when reached, shall be on the basis of certain Articles of the old Treaty—that is an alliance for mutual defence—and as that is agreed to by every single political party in Egypt is that not an obligation which no country can unilaterally renounce?

Mr. Bevin

That is the view we have taken on that issue.

Mr. Clement Davies

if it is the view of the Government that the maintenance and protection of the Canal as a highway in international trade is a matter of concern to the nations to the east and west of the Canal, have they made it clear to the Egyptian Government?

Mr. Bevin

I think our position has been made perfectly clear ever since the 1936 Treaty was made. It is clearly understood by both sides.

Mr. Somerset de Chair

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this Treaty, which bears the personal signature of the present Prime Minister of Egypt, provides specifically in Article 8 that the presence of the British forces in the canal zone shall not constitute an occupation in any manner and shall not in any way prejudice the sovereign rights of Egypt: and is it not perfectly clear that the Egyptian Government have now decided to drag the Egyptian Treaty into the limelight of publicity in order to mask their internal discord? Is it not also a fact that but for the British Army, the German and Italian Armies would today be in total control of the whole of Egypt?

Mr. Bevin

In these international affairs, whatever the motives of friendly countries may be, I do not think it is a wise thing to call them into question. I have to negotiate with these people, and I have a very big responsibility.

Mr. Snow

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole country will welcome his statement that the peoples of the Sudan will not be left to the tender mercies of the specific rule of Cairo?

Mr. Bevin

The Sudan is a remarkable development, and an example to the world of what may be done in territories with people of that kind. We shall do nothing at all to set it back or leave them to the tender mercies of other people. In addition, the new ordinance carried last year extending self-government to a remarkable extent is working extremely well.

Mr. A. R. W. Low

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance with regard to the British troops in the Canal area that the recent statement of policy by the Egyptian Government will not upset the plans of His Majesty's Government for the building of reasonable accommodation for British troops and their families?

Mr. Bevin

We shall look after the accommodation.

Mr. Harold Davies

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all sides welcome the statement that the Sudanese will ultimately be given an opportunity of making their free choice; and secondly, may we as an experiment use the United Nations organisation, since this is defence for neutrality, to establish an international organisation at this strategic artery of defence and trade in world affairs?

Mr. Bevin

I do not think there is any need to establish anything else. This development in this discussion is quite natural, and I do not object to it at all. It is quite possible that if it is handled correctly we shall arrive at a solution of this problem.

Mr. Nigel Fisher

If the Egyptian Government persist in their dictatorial attitude, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the stopping of further releases to Egypt of sterling balances?

Mr. Bevin

I would ask hon. Members of this House to be a little careful in their language. The Egyptians have not acted dictatorially. This House sometimes puts up propositions which other people question as being wise. I think I would leave the matter where it is, and let the negotiations go on.

Mr. Wyatt

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that, pending a solution of this matter, it might be as well to stop the supply of arms, including Centurion tanks, to Egypt, which is proving an unreliable friend, and divert them to more reliable friends in the Middle East?

Mr. Bevin

I see that a number of Questions are down tomorrow to the Minister of Defence, and I will leave the answer to him. We entered into a contract for the tanks, and the Egyptians paid for them. I do not like breaking contracts too easily, and we decided to supply those that have been paid for.

Forward to